One side claims it’s the environmental and economic right thing to do in responsibly meeting regional “green energy goals” while still providing sufficient offsets “in the best interest of Maine ratepayers.” 

The other side says the environmental promise is vastly overstated, hardly green at all, while the touted economic advantage to Maine is a laugh-out-loud pittance. 

The controversy concerns a Central Maine Power/Hydro-Quebec proposed New England Clean Energy Connect to bring Canadian electric power down through a still largely pristine Maine North Woods to ultimately serve Massachusetts’ energy demands, not Maine’s. If approved, this would necessitate sizable deforestation and right of way to accommodate a 145-mile corridor “as wide as the New Jersey Turnpike,” with thousands of scenic-challenging mega-towers “as high as Portland’s Eastland Hotel.” A transmission design that neighboring New Hampshire had first dibs at but couldn’t envision any asserted eco-friendly merits or substantial economic advantage. 

As per usual, the endeavor’s most ardent advocates are coincidentally those most likely to see their own short-term gain. Why is it that “public policy” so often never seems to really protect or benefit the majority interest, and even less so that of non-voting species? Maine’s Plan B status is now weighing the pros and cons of a similar hard sell on both those talking points. 

Each side employs impressive online posturing presenting outwardly convincing facts and figures shaped to best support their respective positions for and against what will unarguably most greatly benefit the two corporate entities involved, neither of which are even American businesses. 

The entire enterprise is a marvel of accomplished branding misdirection and self-promotion. Central “Maine” Power is in actuality an extension of Connecticut based Avangid which is a subsidiary of Iberdrola, a multinational headquartered in Spain. “Hydro”-Quebec does indeed generate hydropower, but it also produces carbon-based electric energy. The New England “Clean” Energy Connect has no real requirement that all or even any of its transported electricity be purely hydro, prompting opponents to allege that the project’s description is a disingenuous “Green-washing” of what is just more fossil-fuel empowerment and ultimately will do nothing in really reducing overall carbon emissions. 

“Semantics” is a nice one-word catchphrase in dodging what are real distinctions which we ignore at our increasing peril. “Perfect is the enemy of the good” has become another convenient popular rationalization by all sides on so many issues. “Follow the money” is routinely confused with “Show me the money” but either one’s all too frequently a good starting point for finding one’s way in this bottom line worshiping world hurtling towards planetary destruction. 

Governor Paul LePage was big on just such a dubious deal projecting reduced electricity costs so as to further economic development. Never ever thought by anybody as an advocate for the environment, he spent much of his governance wooing Hydro-Quebec energy prowess while stifling Maine’s homegrown development of renewable energy resources. Environmentalist opposition, then and now, argue that buying into such a deal would slow development of solar and wind’s far greater benefits that are far less destructive in their infrastructure. Hydro’s own impact on the environment is rarely mentioned, as if ravaging the landscape is just fine as long as it hasn’t a carbon footprint. There’s a reason Maine itself hasn’t pursued such massively scaled hydro projects. 

Gubernatorial candidate Janet Mills wasn’t as oppositional as some of her fellow Democratic contenders but she presented herself as no champion of “The Corridor.” Now she’s all aboard in promoting its part in a “pragmatic” all-of-the-above approach to dealing with climate change. That Canadian so-called “hydro development” has had particularly harsh consequences for indigenous peoples, in physical displacement and cultural disregard, seems to be another example of Gov. Mills’ tone-deafness on such concerns when they stand in the way of the legal definition of the “Common Good,” meaning a non-native view of the environment’s place in the world. 

If we have to sacrifice the environment in order to save it, that’s just what we’ll have to do if our “way of life” is to prevail. The important thing is that the economic engine of an electronic driven technology must continue its siren song even though the rocks ahead are becoming less and less navigable. The thought of ever turning back is argued as an unchangeable impossibility. Other options are at best perceived as naive, or political suicide. We’ve become lemmings heading over the brink, wishing to heed looming warning signs but way too addicted to being able to take any really seriously committed first step to recovery. 

Sadly, that’s a narrative most accept unquestioningly. Most troubling, based on my own experience of legislative involvement, is that once the ship of state sets sail on an agreed upon course it can rarely be turned around. Given the lockstep mindset now promoted by CMP, the governor, the public advocate and the PUC, the Corridor is all but already completed. Public meetings will go through familiar dance steps, but in the end, a powerful few individuals will impose their vision of public policy. 

Any political can this important should definitely be kicked to the ballot box. 

Gary Anderson lives in Bath. 

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